Collaborating in school networks: the realities of navigating the professional boundaries of schools

Since the start of state education policymakers have encouraged schools in England to collaborate and form networks with the statutory, private and third sectors. These partnerships and their co-ordinating roles support the wider outcomes of schooling, but the co-ordination has been reduced due to the desire for increased academic outcomes and a smaller state. The need for wider outcomes remains, but it is unknown how those involved are collaborating to meet these needs. Little published research exists on the practical aspects of these collaborations from both teacher and partner perspectives. This paper addresses this gap through interviews with four teachers/support staff and fifteen partners. The interviews explored the question of who is involved in schools and how the networks operate in practice.

The interviews highlight a messiness and complexity as the partners reported a constant struggle to find the right person with a shared ethos. Access to schools was restricted, so partners sought decision-makers, brokers or used networks. Not all teachers were decisionmakers, but those who were highlighted a pressure from performativity which affected their decisions to bring partners into schools. There are key recommendations for policymakers to improve this situation, such as an awareness of these issues, but also teachers and partners who have to navigate this complexity. This includes being open around interests to collaborate, regular audits and publishing a process statement to outline how they intend to work in partnership.